16 April 2021

Key insights

Europe – Vaccine politics has dominated headlines in Europe with a tussle between UK and Europe on AstraZeneca vaccine production. There is also a tussle within the EU as the Commission seeks to implement controversial new vaccine export restrictions. The new vaccine export rules – which would let the EU slash vaccine exports to some countries including the UK – are a response to a mounting third COVID wave and intense political criticism in the EU. Some EU members, including the Netherlands, Sweden and Ireland have argued that export restrictions will be counterproductive due to complex vaccine supply chains. 

Italy – The practice of mulesing sheep may become a major hindrance to wool exports to Italy. Buyers and brand retailers are increasingly focussed on animal welfare, and are requesting ‘mulesing-free certification’. Australia held 80% wool market share in Italy three years ago. This has now dropped to around 60%. Mulesing is also affecting wool imports into the Czech Republic.

UK – The Government published a new ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’ on March 16. It foreshadows increased spending on space projects, cyber security and naval shipbuilding. The review also identified reliance on rare earth minerals as a security concern. It describes a ‘tilt’ in UK foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific region.

Market opportunities

Health

Czech Republic – The Government’s new Alzheimer Disease Action Plan 2020–2030 will showcase Australian training innovations including virtual reality ‘VR EDIE’ by Dementia Australia and the ‘Understanding Dementia’ e-learning massive open online course (MOOC) by the University of Tasmania. This indicates receptiveness to Australian VR med-tech in some EU markets.

UK – The UK Health Minister has signalled that some NHS changes introduced to cope with the pandemic will likely become permanent – including remote consultations. This creates potential opportunities for Australian telemedicine and remote diagnostics companies.

UK – Introductions between Australian probiotic/healthy food companies and UK distributors indicates strong interest for Australian products in this sector.

Defence and aerospace

France – The French government has brought forward several procurements, investment funds and other initiatives to act as stimulus during the COVID-19 economic downturn and for the post-COVID-19 period. In doing so, the French government, professional associations and defence primes have started emphasizing a preference for locally-produced solutions in procurement policies.

UK – Austrade is collaborating with the Australian Defence Export Organisation to organise a market briefing event for Australian industry on the UK MOD’s next generation ‘Future Air Tempest’ program, the UK’s Future Combat Air System. This is a £1.9 billion project to develop the next generation combat aircraft, replacing the Typhoon.

UK – UK Prime Minister Johnson announced the biggest program of investment in British defence since the end of the Cold War. This involves an overall cash increase of £16.5 billion over four years. The commitment will enable the Government to invest in cutting-edge technology, positioning the UK as a global leader in domains such as cyber and space.

UK – There are growing opportunities for Australian cybersecurity and technology companies to work with the UK Government, and defence and security agencies. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – part of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – has reported a surge in cyberattacks and incidents this year. Protecting the NHS and health-related research is currently a major priority for the NCSC.

Technology

UK – During UK Fintech Week, Austrade will host a webinar on April 20 on the role of the UK-Australia Fintech Bridge in a post-Covid recovery. Fintech Australia will moderate the industry panel.

Manufacturing

Europe  The European Commission is accelerating plans to achieve ‘strategic autonomy’ in the electric vehicle (EV) battery sector. The EU announced a further €2.9 billion funding to support research and innovation in all segments of the battery value chain following €3.2 billion announced in December 2019. The EU expects to produce batteries for at least six million electric cars by 2025. 

Czech Republic – The Czech Republic looks set to become a centre for laser physics and this will create opportunities for Australian industry. ELI Beamlines (a global leader in laser infrastructure) has been officially confirmed as a member of ELI ERIC (Extreme Light Infrastructure – European Research Infrastructure Consortium). The ELI project will be funded from Horizon 2020 (€20 million).

Germany – Digital design companies operating in Europe report that many SMEs are prioritising updates to their online presence. Business is therefore strong, with growing demand for freelance web designers. This may provide opportunities for Australia-based web designers.

Sweden – Swedish steel maker SSAB has opened a demonstration ‘green steel’ facility that uses hydrogen instead of metallurgical coal. SSAB aims to produce fossil-fuel free steel commercially by 2026, initially for the European automotive industry. SSAB currently imports A$300 million of thermal coal per year.

UK – There are growing export opportunities in the supply chain of electric vehicle (EV) batteries and charging-station technologies to UK. Sales of hybrid electric vehicles are currently up 56%, year-on-year; plugin hybrid electric vehicles are up 139%; and battery electric vehicles, 184%. Post has identified multiple public opportunities for Australian companies related to EV charging points in England, Ireland and Wales.

UK – Austrade is also monitoring the impact of the new Brexit rules which will progressively restrict the ratio of non-UK or non-EU components that can be used in EV battery and vehicle manufacture over the next 6 years. This may encourage use of Australian precursors, by forcing EV-making companies to cease buying EV batteries from suppliers in Asia. 

Logistics

Netherlands – Some Australian companies are considering Dutch logistics options after Brexit. The Holland International Distribution Council advised Post that, following Brexit, there is a warehouse boom in the Netherlands as companies are trying to sort out their EU supply chain. This is also impacting Australian companies with current logistic partners in the UK, and Austrade is providing assistance.

Resources & energy

Czech Republic – The EU Modernisation Fund is investing in the modernisation of the Czech Republic’s energy systems, and this could create opportunities for Australia services and tech companies. A total of A$9.11 billion is earmarked for 2021–2030 for improving energy sources and lowering carbon emissions, subject to European Investment Bank approval. The focus is on renewable energy power plants, heating network upgrades and energy efficiency. This could provide opportunities for Australian expertise.

Sweden – LKAB (Sweden’s state-owned iron ore miner) is diversifying into critical industrial minerals. It has announced a letter of intent with Australia’s Talga Resources to develop a lithium-ion battery anode-production facility and integrated graphite-mining operations in northern Sweden. LKAB has announced it will invest A$8 million in a pilot plant for extracting rare-earths in northern Sweden. At full production this plant would provide 30% of Europe’s current demand for rare–earths.

UK – The UK’s National Infrastructure Strategy was unveiled this week detailing ambitious energy commitments. Measures to improve the UK's green infrastructure include the creation of a UK infrastructure bank, a ramping up of electric vehicle (EV) policy, and funding for hydrogen and carbon-capture and storage (CCS). Major highlights for Australian industry include £1 billion committed to bring forward four CCS clusters by 2030 and another £800 million being set aside for the creation of the CCS Infrastructure Fund. Hydrogen, meanwhile, is to benefit from a £240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund.

Food & Agri

Czech Republic – Border issues are preventing some Australian wool from being imported and processed. The Czech Republic is the second largest importer of Australian wool in Europe and one of only two markets globally that increased their imports of Australian wool in the last six months of 2020). Importers advise that barriers include: negative sentiments towards mulesing; China directly/indirectly subsidising exports of wool, fabric and clothing, and; an asymmetry in import taxes between the EU and China. 

Czech Republic – Australia’s ability to export premium meat into the Czech Republic has been stymied by a reduction in the shared quota for grain-feed beef. The shared quota for Australia, Uruguay, Argentina and New Zealand on a first-come, first-served basis has shrunk to 10,000 tonnes, which indicates little room for increased imports into the EU.

Germany  Reports from the wine trade say that Brexit will create problems and opportunities for Australian wine and food suppliers into the EU. Prior to Brexit, many Australian wine and food companies exported goods to the UK for British consumption and onwards distribution into the continental EU. Now that Brexit has occurred, Australian ag/wine companies will consider opening offices within the EU.

UK – Major UK food retailers are boosting annual spending on UK-made food and drink products. For example, Aldi UK (value retailer) announced an extra £3.5bn to support British farmers and suppliers. The Waitrose (premium retailer) Food & Drink Report 2021 surveyed 2,000 people across the UK and shows heightened support for British food and farming. The survey showed 74% wanted to see food businesses and retailers in the UK express more support for local British producers amid the pandemic and Brexit.

UK Trial imports of premium stone fruit have met with a positive reception, although the lockdown hampers marketability in hospitality venues. Economic conditions are likely to remain challenging. Austrade advisors are helping fruit exporters to make introductions in the UK.